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Studio, Floyd

Time Period: 
1914-1920
Location: 
249 West 42nd Street, Manhattan
Biography: 

Created by C. Floyd Coleman (the cognomen of Caroline F. C. Bassett) in 1914 after the bought out the lease and stock of Gould & Marsden Studio in New York, Floyd Studio was an active generator of publicity portraits from 1914 until 1920.

Vaudevillian Billy Gould bankrolled the creation of Gould & Marsden Studio in 1911 underwriting the relocation of photographer George Marsden from Seattle to New York City. Marsden, a Canadian art photographer who first founded a studio in Vancouver, won a regional reputation by placing in several Seattle exhibitions. He relocated to Seattle in 1909 and his great success as a Society portraitist convince Gould that he should join the galaxy of celebrity photographers in Manhattan. In New York, Gould channeled a show business clientele to Marsden. He took no other action in the management of the business, though he may have formulated the business plan: the production of images of theatrical personalities for national magazines. Marsden needed help to keep ahead of the crush of work. He hired a Caroline F. C. Basset, who signed her work “C. Floyd Coleman” as associate operator. She proved a favorite with celebrity sitters—so much so she earned name credit over the “Gould & Marsden” brand inscribed on the negatives of portrait prints. Neither Gould nor Marsden had much head for the financial end of running a gallery, and they had the misfortune of setting up business at a bust period on Broadway. By early 1914 the studio was in trouble. The partnership dissolved in spring of that year, with Marsden hiring on as chief operator for Davis & Sanford, a post he would hold for five years. C. Floyd Coleman took over the studio building, decorating it in a modern fashion, and began Floyd Studio.

Floyd Studio operated for six years, from 1914 to 1920. It aggressively sought and attained placements in national magazines. For several seasons it thrived because of Coleman’s aggressive campaign to supply publicity portraiture for the New York motion picture companies. (Supplying the movies with publicity was a hallmark of ‘non-artistic’ ambitions in the eyes of some photographers and critics.) Floyd had observed Frank B. Puffer, the genteel expert in electric lighting and photographer, defy the prevailing prejudice and build a robust movie publicity business. Floyd Studio followed in Puffer's path, yet it did not abandon theatrical work. Indeed, Coleman mastered flash light photography and provided stage pictures for productions such as the operetta “Lilac Domino.” In 1915 only two other studios could do so. Consequently, she won the grudging respect of rival theatrical photographers. Scene stills, however, were less profitable and more bother than portraits. Besides, her fascination was faces. Of all the portraitists plying Broadway in the 1910s, Coleman most inclined to take a head shot rather than a full figure image. Because periodical editors also loved head shots, she had success placing the publicity images she created in newspapers and magazines.

Floyd’s business prospered until the motion picture studios fled for the west coast. By 1920, despite the artistry of her portraiture—the novelty of her posing, the drama of her lighting, the tactful choice of costumes and props—she was depending largely on theatrical performers, and such folk were notoriously cavalier about payment, fickle about the image creators they used, and surprisingly chary about sitting for publicity. Her “fotography” business had not attempted to do any other sort of work. An attempt to relocate the studio to a more favorable locale at 46th Fifth Avenue provoked, because of the higher rents, a financial crisis in late 1919. By March 1919, Coleman was $8, 349 in the hole with only $50 in the till. She filed for bankruptcy on March 14.

Because Coleman possessed aesthetic taste and technical skills her talents were attractive to other studios in New York. On the basis of portrait style one can ascertain what happened next. Alexander Dreyfoos, president of Apeda Studio hired Coleman to become that studio's portraitist. Dreyfoos and Henry Danzinger devoted their energies to securing business and suing sitters for non-payment, aggressively keeping Apeda among the most active studios in the theatrical photography business. Coleman supplied portraits for Apeda for at least six years, and maybe longer; but that studio's policy not to give credit to its operators prevents giving a firm date when Coleman ceased being an active Broadway portraitist. David S. Shields

Sources: “Gould Now a Photographer,” Seattle Daily Times (Nov. 13, 1913), 9. “Rinehart-Marsden Photo Studio,” Omaha World Herald (April 16, 1919), 2. Floyd Studio credit sticker, signed C. Floyd Coleman, verso image of Gabrielle Perrier, Performing Arts Biography Files, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas. "Floyd Fotographer" entries 23990-94, Catalogue of Copyright Entries for 1915, 4: Works of Art (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1916), 495. Notice of purchase of Gould & Marsden studio effects, "News and Notes," Bulletin of Photography 14, 351 (April 29, 1914), 532. "Petitions in Bankruptcy," The Sun & New York Herald (March 15, 1920), 13.

Specialty: 

Though C. Floyd Coleman could undertake flashlight stage photography, her forte was portraiture, and her favorite mode of presentation, the bust shot. While Floyd Studio retained some of the back paintings originally secured by Gould & Marsden, she used them sparingly in set-ups--usually only in full figure studies. She favored white backgrounds or dark gray tonal backgrounds, vignetted heads, and the use of one evocative prop held in a sitter's hand.